Relatives scuffle with rescue workers at Ethiopian landslide site
“Nobody is helping us. We are doing all the digging ourselves. It is shameful”
(Updates death toll, adds heavy police presence)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, March 14 (Reuters) – Police stopped people on Tuesday from entering the site of a landslide at an Ethiopian rubbish dump after bereaved families tussled with rescue workers there, blaming the government for a slow response to a disaster that killed 82 people this weekend.
Relatives pushed and shoved the handful of emergency workers, angrily accusing them of delays and saying dozens of people were still missing after Saturday’s landslide at the 50-year-old Reppi dump in the capital of Addis Ababa.
“My nephew! My sister’s son!” one elderly woman sobbed as she held aloft a picture inside one of several hastily erected funeral tents packed with mourners.
After a run of deadly protests last year, authorities will be anxious to tamp down any sign of dissent that could become a catalyst for wider demonstrations.
“Nobody is helping us. We are doing all the digging ourselves. It is shameful,” Kaleab Tsegaye, a relative of one victim told Reuters.
Earlier in the morning, relatives shoved workers away from the site.
“Go back to where you came from! Stop pretending you are working!” one shouted.
The situation seemed calmer in the afternoon but one police officer told Reuters that angry residents were still barring police from helping look for bodies. Dozens of police officers stood at the fringes of the dump.
A police officer told Reuters 17 more bodies had been recovered on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 82 so far.
“An overwhelming number are being buried without being identified,” she said, declining to give her name.
Hundreds of people live on the dump, the city’s only landfill site, scavenging for food and items they can sell such as recyclable metal. The landslide destroyed 49 homes.
On Monday, hundreds of people gathered at the scene, weeping and praying. Some accuse the government of negligence. Families bitterly complained they had been left to dig for the bodies of their loved ones by the light of their mobile phones.
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, but the drive to industrialise has also stoked discontent among those who feel left behind.
In October, the government imposed a national state of emergency after more than 500 people were killed in protests in Oromiya region as anger over a development scheme sparked broader anti-government demonstrations.